Five of the biggest names in Irish fashion share their AW17 mood boards

Natalie B Coleman

Every fashion collection begins with a mood board, a collage of images that inspire a designer. Five of Ireland’s biggest names in fashion share theirs with Carolyn Moore.

AS the autumn winter ’17 collections continue to drop, transitional pieces are beginning to give way to some of the season’s strongest trend stories. But where do those stories begin?

Those not familiar with the inner workings of a fashion label may be surprised to learn that, even in this technologically advanced age, every fashion collection begins with a simple mood board; a selection of images which make visual the visceral influences at play when designers embark on their creative journey.

Like Pinterest for creative professionals, a mood board is a road map; guiding designers along the path from intangible concept to wearable garment, but they’re not just for fashion.

Everything from your car to your toaster to your new winter coat began to take shape via a similar assemblage of evocative imagery exploring textures, colours and form.

We asked five Irish designers, with differing outlooks, processes and considerations, to revisit their AW17 mood boards, and take us on that fascinating creative journey with them, from inspiration to finished garment.

Caroline Kilkenny

A model wearing Caroline Kilkenny.

I will always be guided by fabric when designing, it’s what inspires each new collection. This season I worked up four storyboards, each reflecting a time of opulence and dress-up. I used tweeds with laminated finishes to give drama, and embellished it with leather lace to add a bit of edge, or ostrich feathers to soften.

I love working with fabric that’s rich in texture and has a luxurious handle. On the mood board for this story you can see very traditional tweed cloth with a laminated patent finish, which gives it a more industrial feel while maintaining its classic roots. Discovering this kind of innovation with textiles is what inspires me to design. Inspiration is a changeable thing; it never comes from one element, and it can pop its head up in all manner of places, whether it’s a favourite movie, a street style image, travel… the list goes on, but for me this season it was definitely all about feathers! In fact, the first image I pinned on the board was the peacock feather; it inspired the retro feel that runs through the collection referencing designers from the ‘40s, particularly Dior.

The mood board Caroline uses for inspiration to match textures and fabrics.

You can see elements of that inspiration also in the volume of the quilted skirt.

The Puffa-effect fabric was a personal favorite; I loved the feel and look for winter but I decided to change its use from outerwear to daywear by working it into a swing style skirt, and I love the result.

A model wearing Caroline Kilkenny.

  • Black quilted Sabi skirt, €243, and knit Dolly top, €189, by Caroline Kilkenny at Aisling Maher, Adare. For full collection see

Fiona Heaney of fee G

Fiona Heaney.

I try to approach the design process in quite an instinctive way, but we’re always against the clock. You could be designing a collection forever, but our European agents have launch deadlines we have to meet.

At the beginning of the process, there are always new shapes I’d like to develop, but I find it more exciting to simply start with the inspirations I want to see reflected in the collection. I work on five stories each season, and as it progresses some fabrics and colours will become stronger, or speak louder. These are the ideas I choose to develop.

The mood board that inspired Fiona Heaney’s collection.

For AW17, I spent an afternoon in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Their collection includes works from the 1800s, an era I find hugely inspiring, housed in an old railway station with fabulous architecture. It inspired me to research French architecture, which lead me to the French Baroque period; the ornate grandeur and luxury of which easily translates to fashion.

The first image on the board was the ceiling cornice. I loved the tonal flourishes and the elegant, luxurious craftsmanship. Those luxury details began to take shape in the textures of the fabrics, and baroque-inspired pearls, appliqués and embroidery became key to the story, and to this dress, which embodies the mood of the collection. Cream-based, tonal, with lots of texture and a luxurious finish, it’s feminine but commercial, and it incorporates fee G’s signature handwriting. I love it, and so did our customers - it’s been one of our best selling styles.

A model wearing fee G.
  • Dress by fee G, €319, at Macbees, Killarney. For full collection see

Natalie B Coleman

Natalie B Coleman.

Each collection is like a page from my diary; they come from a very personal starting point, usually a piece of writing, a photograph or a film — something that’s resonating with my own life at that moment.

I called this collection Stop Sickening my Happiness, a Monaghan expression which Charlene McKenna — my muse and fellow Monaghan woman — suggested.

Natalie B Coleman’s mood board with blackberries and biker jacket.

It captures the mood perfectly! There’s a spirit of rebellion and solidarity between women in Ireland right now, so I wanted to continue the positive girl gang imaging I explored with my ‘Support Your Local Girl Gang’ T-shirts, juxtaposed with more nostalgic, traditional ideas.

The first image on the board was Holly Hunter in The Piano, sinking into the mud in her enormous hoop skirt. It’s so evocative and haunting, and it fed into the oversized, rounded shapes I was going for with the blackberries. I’d been looking at old photos of me blackberry-picking with my mother; listening to a lot of Kate Bush; feeling a Wuthering Heights vibe and wanting to run away a bit!

A model wearing Natalie B Coleman’s design.

The biker jacket was another key inspiration. We collaborated with Molloy and Sons in Donegal to recreate the padding detail with a wonderful ridged effect wool woven especially for us, with gorgeous dark purple hues coming through.

This was made into a berry shaped coat with laser cut Carrickmacross lace motifs in lambskin at the neck and shoulders. Carrickmacross is my local town and I’m passionate about keeping those traditional techniques alive in my work.

  • Silk organza housecoat €600, and frilled trousers, €600, by Natalie B Coleman at Atrium Dublin. For full collection see

Alison Conneely

Alison Conneely.

For me, designing a collection is truly visceral. Always and ever it begins with textiles, and for this, my first bridal collection, I scoured every mill in Europe to find the cream of the crop. Italian kidskins, French silks, Scottish wools - when I have them in my hands, I just know.

The fabric always informs the silhouettes. Soft kidskin swaddles you, whereas 800gm wool holds a strong, confident cut. The collection starts to take form when I begin pattern cutting, but I allow it to shape-shift. If I find myself in a very different place to where I began, then that’s where I’ll go.

Alison Conneely’s mood board.

For this reason, my boards really are ‘mood’ boards. If you use very specific imagery it’s difficult to move away from that, and I like to work organically, with the freedom to develop ideas as I go. This is especially important working with brides – you go on a journey together.

For this collection, the mood is one of calm and strength; it’s got incredible textures and powerful silhouettes, yet it’s still romantic and soft.

Alison Conneely’s design begins with textiles and pattern.

My first image was the Yugoslavian war memorial by Miodrag Živkovic. I could lose myself in Brutalist architecture; beautifully minimal, it’s a perfect start point for a contemporary bridal collection that’s serene, architectural, and allows you space.

In many ways, this collection began simply as a revolt against the lack of choice out there for brides. I wanted to design sublime, timeless pieces to be coveted and worn again. The clothes wont wear you – you wear them.

  • Draped lightweight wool dress (also available in silk) €2,300, to order at For full collection see

Jill de Búrca

Jill de Burca.

Whether I’m working on a commission for a design house or embarking on a new collection, starting a project is a very instinctive process.

It’s an idea that begins to grow and develop as I research, experiment and sample.

Jill de Burca’s mood board.

I use the same basic process each time, but getting there becomes a very different journey.

I usually have a vague idea, then I start collecting fabrics and threads, combining them with drawings and photographs to build a story or mood.

Experimenting with these images and textures sparks more ideas, and I’ll explore these through sampling — working up embroideries and embellishments and building a sample collection of different colours, textures, and even stitch directions.

A design from Jill de Burca’s collection.

Then it’s a process of elimination, deciding what’s working and what’s not.

My AW17 inspiration began with a trip to the Natural History Museum, where I took photos and worked them into drawings. A photo of the garden tiger moth was the first image on this board.

I loved his name and I was so drawn to the animal print camouflage pattern adorning his wings. I started exploring the pattern and texture, embroidering samples onto velvet.

I was drawn to moths because I’d been envisioning a night garden filled with nocturnal creatures; that’s what developed on the board.

I love the collar we developed with the Tiger moth’s pattern and texture, and we hand beaded the stars. I’d love to do more accessories.

  • Dress, €825, and velvet collar with stars, €295, by Jill de Búrca at Atrium, Dublin.


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